Inside a bustling hangar bay at the far end of Gloucestershire airport in South West England, a team of British engineers, designers, and data specialists recruited from across Rolls-Royce and beyond are working to create history.
They’re building a high-performance electric aeroplane, which the company says will be unlike anything the world has ever seen. Scheduled to take to the skies over Great Britain in 2020, the aircraft will attempt to surpass 300mph (480kph) or more, which the company claims will make it the fastest all-electric plane in history.
Rolls-Royce says this run for the record books is no stunt, but is part of the company's initiative called ACCEL – short for “Accelerating the Electrification of Flight” – that’s intended to pioneer a third wave of aviation in support of Rolls-Royce’s strategy to champion electrification.
Blueprint of the electric aircraft (Image courtesy: Rolls-Royce)
"This plane will be powered by a state-of-the-art electrical system and the most powerful battery ever built for flight. In the year ahead, we’re going to demonstrate its abilities in demanding test environments before going for gold in 2020 from a landing strip on the Welsh coastline," said Matheu Parr, ACCEL project manager for Rolls-Royce.
Creating a record
Rolls-Royce says it was instrumental in helping Britain win the prestigious Schneider Trophy in 1931, a victory that established the company as a leader in aerospace. The British racing seaplane that established the record was known as the Supermarine S.6B. Powered by a Rolls-Royce “R” engine, it maxed out at 343mph (552kph) that day. By comparison, the current record for an all-electric plane, set by Siemens in 2017, is 210 mph (338kph). Rolls-Royce says Parr and his team want to blow the doors off the modern e-flight mark – and they even have their eyes on the Supermarine record. Doing so will require overcoming a series of unique challenges.
The team will need to build an immense battery that’s powerful enough to beat a series of speed and performance records, light enough to fly, and stable enough not to overheat. “We’re monitoring more than 20,000 data points per second, measuring battery voltage, temperature, and overall health of the powertrain, which is responsible for powering the propellers and generating thrust. We’ve already drawn a series of insights from the unique design and integration challenges,” says Parr.
“And we’re gaining the knowhow to not only pioneer the field of electric-powered, zero-emissions aviation – but to lead it. At this point, our confidence is sky high.”